Freemasonry in England: A Short History

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Freemasons’ Hall in Great Queen Street, London, England. The Hall is the headquarters of the United Grand Lodge of England and a meeting place for the Lodges in the London area. The art deco building was built between 1927 and 1933 as a memorial to the 3225 Freemasons who died on active service in the First World War. Initially known as the Masonic Peace Memorial, the name was changed to Freemasons' Hall at the outbreak of the Second World War in 1939.

A succinct insight into the history of Freemasonry in England; from its origins in the Middle Ages to present day principles.

Though the exact time and place of the establishment of Freemasonry is still widely debated, the origins of this fraternal organisation are known to emanate from the Middle Ages. It was during this time stone masons were charged with building castles and cathedrals through their skilled craftsmanship. Possessing the ability to design and construct such aesthetic masterpieces required great knowledge of both mathematics and architecture.

Having developed these skills through intellect and action, the masons were subsequently charged with teaching their trade to apprentice stone masons. However, given the regard in which the ancient craft was held such apprentices had to earn their right for learning; proving their trustworthiness. In essence, it is through this possessing and subsequent passing on of wisdom and knowledge that Freemasonry emerged.

Establishment of the United Grand Lodge of England

The first official documented reporting of inauguration of an English Freemason (Speculative Mason) occurred in the year 1646. The man’s name was Elias Ashmole (1617-1692). Ashmole was an antiquarian and chemist of some renown, who in 1677 was offered the position of Garter King at Arms. Though it is known there were most certainly Speculative Masons appointed before this time, written records of such accounts have not been discovered as yet. Nonetheless, it was not until the 24th of June 1717 after a meeting of four existing London Lodges that the first Grand Lodge was established in the city.

From 1717 to 1751 Freemasonry expanded its reach establishing a Grand Lodge in Ireland (1725), Scotland (1736), and subsequently further abroad as the British Empire enhanced its exploration of the world. However in 1751 a quite separate and opposing Grand Lodge was established in London; one whose members were Irish Masons who believed the original Grand Lodge had deviated from the ancient Masonic beliefs. It was not until the 23rd of December 1813, after four years of negotiation that the two Grand Lodges combined to form the United Grand Lodge of England (UGLE).

To present day

By 1900 2,800 Lodges had been established under the auspices of the UGLE. The great changes which occurred throughout the 1900s, including the two world wars, served to further increase the depth, breadth and organisation of Freemasonry across England. At the present time there exists 48 provinces within England, Wales, the Channel Islands, and the Isle of Man governed by UGLE. However despite the many significant events and advancements which have occurred during such a period, Freemasonry has maintained its strong sense of individualism. It has maintained its commitment to upholding the three foundational principles of Freemasonry which exist to guide, challenge, and enhance each Mason both morally and ethically; Brotherly Love, Relief, and Truth.

References:

  1. Freemasons NSW & ACT. What is Freemasonry?
  2. United Grand Lodge of England. History of Freemasonry: The Origins of Freemasonry in England
  3. Westfall, R. S. (Department of History and Philosophy of Science, Indiana University). Elias Ashmole